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Devastating fires wreak havoc in the Western Cape Province, South Africa
Wild fires that destroyed hectares of vegetation in the regions of Mossel Bay, George and Outshoorn were hardly killed, when new fires broke out on January 3rd, and this time on Cape Town’s doorstep.
"This year’s fires (in the Western Cape Province) are way more severe than the fires in the Southern Peninsula a few years ago,” said Ian Schnetler, head of Cape Town’s Fire Department.
Since the start of the fire season ground crews and aircraft have suppressed fifty-seven fires, and three months of the fire season are still ahead.
All the fires were started by people, said Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith. Investigations are underway to reveal if the intent was malicious.
Witness statements received from residents in the Helderberg area inspired authorities to offer a reward of R 25,000 for information that may lead to the arrest of arsonists.
Inciting destruction of ‘white-owned land’ by the Black First Land First (BLF) movement is also under investigation.
Dry, hot conditions during the summer months increase the risk of veld fires during the Western Cape Province's annual fire season from October to March (while storms and heavy flooding are the main threats in winter months [June to August]).
The Western Cape can expect more wild fires due to drought conditions worsened by global climate change, James-Brent Styan, spokesperson for Local Government and Environmental Affairs, MEC Anton Bredell, warned.
Destructive fires in the Winelands of the Western Cape Province
Since January 3rd more than 1,000 firefighters have been deployed to battle fires in Somerset West, Simon's Town, Tulbagh, Parrow, and Grabouw, where unusually high winds with gusts of up to 60 miles per hour and exceptionally dry conditions hampered their efforts to control the blazes.
* 4,500 acres of the 7,500-acre Vergelegen wine estate – one of South Africa’s best wineries. The farm was established three-hundred years ago.
* Four holiday huts at the Goudini Spa resort in the Slanghoek Valley. At least 22 people were injured in this fire;
* 5,000 acres - nearly half of the 300-year old Lourensford wine farm in the Helderberg mountain range near Somerset West, including a pine plantation.
* In Paarl - about 60 kilometres (37 mi) northeast of Cape Town – the 225-year old main house, as well as the restaurant, of the luxurious Augusta Kleinbosch guest farm. The house, built in 1792, originally belonged to Jacob Daniël du Toit alias Totius - a prominent poet, writer, and ordained minister of the Reformed Church, who was largely responsible for translating the Bible into Afrikaans. Ref: Totius (1877-1953).
* Also in Paarl, the 300-year old wine farm, Druk-My-Niet. This farm was established in 1692 by Huguenot settler Francois du Toit. Several buildings, including the historic 300-year-old manor house, as well as the wine cellar and virtually all of the vineyards, were destroyed on January 9th. “Thankfully our 2016 wines in barrel are safe,” winemaker and viticulturist Alex McFarlane reported.
* Bezweni Lodge in Somerset West - about 50 kilometres (30 mi) east of Cape Town central city area. “I’ve lost my whole life!” said the owner, Peter Weideman, as his only belongings not destroyed by the fire are the clothes he was wearing and items in his pockets.
Thousands hectares of vegetation were burnt in this region.
Fynbos, the unique vegetation located only in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, has to burn every 12 to 15 years as part of the natural life cycle of the plant. However, it will take years to replace the prime vineyards and orchids that were destroyed in the fires.
Devastating destruction in the Winelands of South Africa
Fires in the Cape Peninula
In Simon's Town, situated in the Cape Peninsula only a cat spit from Cape Town, a fire broke out on Wednesday, January 11th. The raging fire as well as thick grey smoke and ash compelled residents to evacuate the area. Simonstown is home to the South African Navy.
By the time the fire was extinguished, 1600 hectares had been burnt.
On Thursday, January 12th , hundreds of residents were evacuated when fires broke out in Ocean View – previously known as Slangkop.
Ocean View, Cape Town, South Africa
A blaze broke out on the slopes of Signal Hill on Friday, January 13th evening.
Signal Hill, Cape Town, South Africa
Opinion of an owfma-sa
Seeing so much destruction upsets me tremendously. Knowing that fires are 99.9% of the time caused by people is difficult to comprehend in the light of the many fires of the past two weeks. Who in their right mind cannot be hyper-cautious when finding themselves in a region where a fire could be started with a flame as tiny as a fly’s trunk?
Suspecting arson fills me with horror. What kind of mind allows a person to commit arson? Exactly how much ignorance, shortsightedness and malice does it take to start a destructive fire?
If those fires were started with malicious intent, this owfma-sa can but only close her eyes and pray that the people of South Africa – and especially those who are stuck in the past and unable to move forward with a desire to build – be blessed with wisdom in abundance.
By the way, and owfma-sa is an ordinary white female middle-age South African.
Update: More fires deliberately started!
Since I've published this hub on January 15, more fires broke out, and more witnesses came forward, testifying that they saw arsonists deliberately starting fires.